You Can't make this stuff up

There are stock stories that music business courses suggest to aspiring musicians….some are called “elevator pitch” stories--as in, if you were in an elevator with a record company exec who could really “Make” your career, what would you tell them? Like it or not, you’d need to have some answer to the question “What’s your music like?” They don’t like it if you can’t give some description….and, in a way, they’re right….failing to answer indicates to them that you haven’t spent enough time focusing on what exactly your message is…..AND that you are clueless enough to be caught unprepared for a question that you should have known HAD to be coming! Anyway, a couple of favorite templates are the geographical “I bet you’re wondering how a cowboy from Oklahoma and a drummer from Belize found themselves in the best bluegrass band in Tempe, Arizona.” Or the hard-luck story “Fighting their way out of the projects of Compton, they forged their hard-scabble vision of what West Coast rap could and should be” But my personal favorite is a variant of that “ This story NEEDED to be told….and they ovecame impossible odds to make this album happen”......yeah, right! The next band that tells me something like that is gonna need to overcome me punching the shit out of them…..I give you the true story of the new Wildcat O’Halloran album, Deck of Cards: Writer’s block doesn’t seem like a problem commensurate with fighting your way out of Compton, but if you’ve ever encountered it, you’ll recognize that it’s a tricky little devil. The Wildcat has never been a particularly prolific songwriter….and this was CD number 15 ( not ALBUM 15….there were several vinyl and cassette releases before )....how many smart-alecky “If You Ever Need A Friend...Buy A Dog” lyrics were as yet undiscovered? Would he ever come up with another sad love song as good as “Crossin Off”? Would everything he came up up be half as good? Or worse yet, STUPID! Oh, THAT word….favorite of Bill Sr…..yeah, he’d like to avoid stupid. And between teaching an ungodly number of sections at the local Communuty College HVAC department, AND getting actual “no heat calls”....and keeping his band working, there just was no time. Worst of all, he realized that he had no idea where songs came from, Lots of songwriters SAY that, and there are exercises purported to help address they dreaded block….but most of those said things like “Write something every day….even if it’s dreck”. That wasn’t going to work….the hatred of dreck was too strong, and the time too short. Finally, he was reduced to writing down one good line at a time. After a year, he tried to assemble some of them into a coherent idea…..”Yeah, you’ve met people in education and showbiz who are two-faced….actually MORE than two-faced…..what was that expression the oil truck drivers used? More Faces than a deck of Cards?”...off we go! Using a rhyming dictionary. After a ridiculously long time (which did, however allow his band to get sharper and more experienced), he had 6-7 songs. Hardly Compton, you say? Yes, but this was the EASY problem. Remember that sharper and more experienced band? Well, the Cat slapped together some kind of demo of the songs (what’s below primitive?) and started rehearsals. Looking back later, he asked “How did you hear that demo and think….yeah, ok…..it was HORRIBLE!” “WE figured you knew what you were doing” they answered…..Beautiful, loyal, trusting little band. So they started rehearsals…...and Mark, the drummer….had a heart attack! And not your “ a little chest pain, and a stent and your back in a week” heart attack. He was unconscious for over two weeks. He had the Last Rites. A student doctor there on a fellowship devised a plan. A nurse had an idea how to wake him up. And folks, when he woke up and was (somewhat) coherent, there was a PARADE of doctors coming into that room to witness the miracle….barely hiding their surprise. Meanwhile….. Emily Duff, who, beneath her sweet little blond girl appearance hides a masters degree in Jazz arranging, and a brilliant ability to anticipate where the Cat is going next, pays back those student loans by performing on cruise ships. As this is written, she is out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, hopefully with enough fuel to get back home after a very unfortunate cruise to ASIA!! Not quite as disastrous as the ones on the tv news, but unhappy enough that the passengers wanted out, and the next group have mostly cancelled. Though she makes sure to be home for the Wildcat summer tour, she’s gone a good chunk of the year. The plan was to record while she was home after Thanksgiving…...aaand that ….wasn’t going to work…...Mark was NOT going to be ready, and the rehearsals had all been cancelled….and yet,,,The performances while Em was home were artistically beautiful, and well-received, but more than that, had a deeply reassuring effect on the band. One of the drum subs rounded up was Gilbert May, who had played with the Cat back in his Sheehans heyday. “Gilbert”, the CAt said” I HAVE to record something while Emily is home….it’ll be learn one, record one, like in the Doves Nest days when we started….can you do it?” “Why not”, said Gil “Christmas angels are only around at Christmas” And off we went…...with a maze of wires in my living room, since it was too late to book studio time. I brought the machine on the road for Emily’s overdubs when my house had other stuff going on, I brought back one of the songs Gilbert had played on, did my solos, fussed endlessly with the scratchy thing I call a voice….I mixed and re-mixed, often checking my settings with Kathy Peterson or my son Willie….since I woke up after my parts pretty deaf….a combination of a head cold and too much loud headphone work. I pulled mechanical licenses for the covers….and found, to my horror, that one of the songwriters had pulled his song off of the service I was trying to use! Fortunately, they let one last request (mine) go through before their breakup. When the album started to come together (almost forgot daughter Sarah, who patiently learned what weird timing I was singing...and what note I had in mind), I ordered USB thumb drives as well as cds…...thumb drives…..from China…..in February…….haven’t seen those yet. And waited for our grand CD Release Party…..which was, naturally cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus. So, to sum up: the next band that uses the “tremendous obstacle” template around me, is gonna get this response: “Tremendous obstacles, you say? Yeah, right! Did your drummer almost die? Did the world almost end on the day of your release? Don’t make me laugh” That’s my story.

1 comment

  • Karen
    Karen Jawja,USA
    Enjoyin' the heck out of Deck of Cards! All those turns & tumbles made for a great CD. Thank you all! May you all remain well!

    Enjoyin' the heck out of Deck of Cards!
    All those turns & tumbles made for a great CD.
    Thank you all!
    May you all remain well!

Add comment